Group projects are essential to the applied learning that takes place across campus, not least of which is the Bioengineering Capstone Design course led by Boone To (Douglas) Young, Teaching Associate Professor in the College of Engineering and Computer Science.
Yung’s course asks teams of students to develop real-world solutions to biomedical challenges, taking them from concept to prototype design. It can be a challenging environment.
“These are long projects, and the students work day in and day out,” Young says. “But I began to notice that my student teams were having a hard time with collaboration and with concepts like co-leadership and how to fit and adapt with other team members.”
Young adds, “Having a partner to help me look at team dynamics would be great, and would help meet real needs in my teaching practice.”
In the fall of 2022, Yung gets such a partner: Zoe Rennock ’24 a Selected Studies in Education (SSE) Student at the School of Education, whose focus is “Education and Diversity.” The program that brings Yung and Rennock together is Partnership for Inclusive Education (PIE), a Center of Excellence in Teaching and Learning initiative.
PIE brings together faculty and students for a semester to exchange views on teaching, learning, and inclusiveness in a given course. Faculty members enroll voluntarily and are paired with a student – often one from an SSE bachelor’s degree program or Mary Ann Shaw Center for Public and Community ServicesWho is not registered in the course.
“The Partnership for Inclusive Education was developed in Summer 2020, in the wake of campus and national protests, such as #NotAgainSU and the May 2020 unrest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd,” says the PIE Coordinator. Laurel Willingham MacLean. “It is the perfect complement to the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA) compliance initiatives in which all staff and faculty must participate. PIE spans a DEIA focus over an entire semester, in which one student collaborates with one faculty member on one course. The program lays out DEIA initiatives context within a student-professor relationship that encourages respect, reciprocity, and shared responsibility.”
Willingham-McLain says the program defines “inclusion” as being culturally responsive to all students. “We define it together—students and faculty—during our orientation,” she explains. We ask, “What does inclusion at scale mean?” “
Responses include, “that all students are invited and supported in their learning” and “that every student is respected because they have a unique set of experiences.”
“For this program, inclusion means creating culturally responsive learning environments for all students at Syracuse by opening up a systematic exchange of perspectives on teaching and learning,” says Willingham McClain.
The relationship between PIE and the School of Education began in summer 2020. SSE undergraduates must complete more than 270 hours of applied learning experiences across campus and in the community, including internships and shadowing. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, finding these placements has become a challenge for Program Coordinators Kathy Oscarlis and Professor Barbara Applebaum.
“SSE needed placements, and we needed students. It was a happy coincidence,” says Willingham McClain. PIE training can be particularly suitable for an SSE student going into K-12 or higher education. “It can be great training as the students pull back the curtain about the faculty members and discover how much they care about the students and the depth of their interests.”
Classroom is dynamic
A freshman, Rinok began discussing how to achieve two semesters of coaching credits with Kathy Oscarles in the spring of 2021. “Kathy brought up the Partnership for Inclusive Education, and because my focus is on education and diversity, it totally went hand-in-hand.”
Paired with Professor Young for the fall 2022 semester, the two began meeting in August to discuss Renok’s advisory role—to attend classes, monitor project teams and communicate among students, and give Young recommendations for improvements.
“The main thing Professor Young wanted to help with was for each group to run their own group work and to include everyone in their discussions,” explains Renock. “As the graduate course progresses into the second semester, group work can become disorganized and the dynamics can become more tense.”
“In our teams of four, there are naturally students who want to be more involved,” notes Young. “Leadership roles come naturally, but other students can feel silenced and alienated. I may not be aware of this. But with Zoe noticing, she can evaluate each team to see who is communicating and who is not. Then we can take action. For example, she might send Zoe materials about co-leadership, or I might discuss teamwork best practices with everyone.”
Renock adds, “I brought what I learned from my education classes about people inclusion and group dynamics, as well as how we support students with disabilities such as ADHD. I also learned a lot about project-based learning.”
Young explains that Rennock helped with another dynamic in the classroom, the relationship between Yung’s teaching assistant and the classroom environment. Zoe helped me set up my TA. He’s new to the country and from a lecture-based academic environment, so he was also new to the concept of student collaboration. He wasn’t entirely comfortable at first, Zoe noted. It’s kind of like connective tissue that helps the course stick together. Work in harmony, which helps me build trust between student teams and between the leadership team.”
PIE creates a unique space, says Willingham-McLain. “It is a place where students and faculty think together about learning without grading or evaluating each other. There is nothing else like this program on campus.” For students, PIE is an opportunity to “increase” their professionalism: “They have to organize weekly meetings, observe classes, ask open-ended questions, and give feedback.”
The program is also a research and publishing opportunity for undergraduates. For example, in November 2022, Jingzhe (Jackson) Qi ’23, an SSE student, co-presented a PIE presentation at an educational development conference in Seattle, Washington, while SSE alumna Madison Jakubowski ’22 co-presented “Creating and Sustaining a Partnership between Students and Members of Faculty for Inclusive Education” at Pedagogicon 2022.
Ultimately, Willingham-McLain says she loves the “agility” of the program and greatly appreciates its partnerships with the School of Education and the Shaw Center. “They have access to the students,” she says, “and I have access to the professors.” “I look forward to the next push toward expanding this program and ways to motivate more faculty to join.”
Young and Renok share this enthusiasm. “It’s a great program,” Young says. “I’ve recommended it to my ECS colleagues and I’ve even brought one of them on board.”
Adds Renock, “I recommend that other professors do the program. When student advisors and faculty members develop a good relationship, we can effect change.”
Regarding how her PIE training will benefit her career, Renock says she considers teaching young children: “This experience can be used across grades, for teaching skills such as interpersonal communication and project-based learning.”
Learn more about the School of Education Selected studies in the Bachelor of Education degree programor contact Timothy Findlay, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Placement, at [email protected] or 315.443.4269.264